Discovering a photo and uncovering a story

I love browsing heritage photographs and recently discovered the image below on Kete Christchurch.

I live near Opawa and being an ex-teacher was keen to know more. Being stuck at home and loving a bit of online research, this photo provided the perfect opportunity to do a wee bit of historical snooping.

But who had a story to tell? “Miss Banks” piqued my interest as she was the only female teacher named in the photo, even though there were two other women. It was hard to distinguish her facial features, but she seemed to sit proudly with her colleagues. Who was this woman?

First, using the information from the photo, I Googled “opawa school banks 1890s” to see what a “quick and dirty” search would uncover. The fourth result on the page looked the most promising being from the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre which has digitised significant New Zealand historical materials. The entry from the Cyclopedia of New Zealand published in 1903 revealed a piece of gold.

"Miss CHARLOTTE MAUD BANKS, Headmistress of the Infant Department of the Opawa school, was born in Christchurch and educated at the Normal School and Girls' High School. She served two years at the Normal Training College, gaining a D certificate, was appointed assistant mistress at Opawa school in 1888, and promoted ten years later to her present position."

Discovering this record of her full name was totally unexpected and now would make further research easier. Three resources prove invaluable at this point, Papers Past, Historical BDM and Ancestry: Library Edition.

Browsing Papers Past, choosing just the the Press and Lyttelton Times, I read that Miss Banks was Infant Mistress at Opawa School (which I knew) and remained there for over twenty years. She previously taught at the Normal School, St Albans and relieved during staff illness at Leeston School. There are quite a few articles to read, she matriculated from the University of New Zealand in 1887, reports on her different school positions, and finally her death notice. She was certainly a committed teacher all her life.

Historical BDM provides vital birth, death and marriage records to search, necessary for those hunting ancestors in New Zealand. The birth record showed she was the daughter of James Brightwell and Mary Ann Banks born in 1869. The family record showed she grew up with five sisters, Mary, Ada, Laura, Ruby and Alice.

Her death record notes she died in 1932 and her death notice appears in the Press in 1932. This provides the day she died.

Her death lists her as the third daughter in the family. On Historical BDM she appears to be the second child. Further research will discover which is correct.

What did I uncover at Ancestry Library Edition? This resource, available from home during lockdown, and accessed with your library card and PIN, has a wealth of New Zealand records. The most important for this particular research is the New Zealand Electoral Rolls 1852-1981.

Elizabeth Maud Banks lived in Christchurch all her life. She first appeared on the Electoral Roll in 1896 living at 193 Salisbury Street and listed as a public-school teacher. This was the family house, and Miss Banks was not the only teacher in the house. Her sister Alice Gertrude was a teacher on this roll and by the 1900 roll Laura May was also a teacher. Teaching was a family vocation...

Miss Banks did not move far from home. By 1914 she was living at 30 Salisbury Street and remained there until her death. Other records from the New Zealand Gazette to the Cemetery Records also prove useful. She is buried at Linwood Cemetery with other family.

Miss Banks spent her life dedicated to teaching and being close to family. There is obviously more to uncover yet these three resources made it easy to get started and kept me wanting to know more.

Researching photos and family history is like going down a rabbit hole.There is always more to a story.

So after a quick cuppa, I was again ready to be transported to another time and place. I was surprised with what I found. 

Want to get ahead of me. Clue? Titanic.

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